Explore some of the most beautiful dive sites in the world that’s teeming with incredible marine life and coral reefs.
Scuba divers from all over the world flock to Southeast Asia in droves just to explore the beauty of our ocean floor. Here are six of the best dive sites in Southeast Asia, including tips on getting there and the best times to visit.
1. Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia
Pulau Sipadan is located off the coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is known as one of the best diving sites in the world and only 120 divers are allowed each day from 8AM to 3PM, due to its current status as a protected site. Divers will need to stay on nearby islands, or the port town of Semporna and then journey by boat to Sipadan for their dive. Expect to see lots and lots of sea turtles, white tip reef sharks and huge schools of fish during your dive—the abundance and diversity of marine life in the coral reefs surrounding Pulau Sipadan is remarkable.
Getting there: From Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu, fly to Tawau, continue by land to Semporna. Day trips via fast boat to Sipadan are included in dive packages.
Best time to visit: From April to December, when the sea and weather conditions are relatively calm.
2. Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
The Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea—consisting of around 800 islands off the southern coast of Myanmar—was only opened up to tourists in 1997. Hundreds of islands with lush jungles and white sandy beaches are yet to be explored; several are inhabited by the Moken tribe of sea gypsies. Diving can only be done from live-aboard cruise safaris to take in as many dive sites around the remote area as possible. Popular dive sites such as Big Bank, Rainbow Reef and Black Rock are known for their sightings of sharks, manta rays, frogfish and ribbon eels.
Getting there: Guided boat tours depart from the Kawthaung border crossing in the southernmost part of Myanmar. Live-aboard cruises depart from Phuket, Khao Lak or Ranong in Thailand.
Best time to visit: December to April. March and April guarantee clear waters and lighter winds. Whale sharks and manta rays can be seen from February to May.
3. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Raja Ampat is an archipelago of 1,500 islands located in Indonesia’s Papua province. The four main islands are Waigeo, Misool, Salawati and Batanta. Over 500 coral species and 1,000 fish species can be found in the waters of Raja Ampat, making it one of the most biodiverse places in the world. One of our favourite sites is Raja Ampat’s Boo Island where a massive limestone rock sits in a reef filled with abundant marine life, constantly swirling around the reef.
Getting there: You can fly from Jakarta or Bali to the town of Sorong—your gateway to the Raja Ampat islands. Live-aboard leave from Sorong and you can stay in diving resorts that will arrange for you to be picked up from Sorong for day-trips.
Best time to visit: October to April when manta rays are prevalent.
4. Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, Philippines
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is teeming with over 1,000 species of marine life, many of which are endangered, including the hawksbill sea turtles. According to UNESCO, one of the attractions of the coral reef is the 100-metre perpendicular wall—where the shallow coral reef abruptly ends to give way to great depths. This is especially popular among sport divers.
Getting there: Hop on a live-aboard from the city of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, located 150 km from the Tubbataha Reef.
Best time to visit: Mid-March to mid-June, when seas are calm and visibility is highest in the water.
5. Richelieu Rock, Thailand
Richelieu Rock is arguably Thailand’s best dive site. Many will find it hard to disagree due to the endless marine life that gathers around this horseshoe-shaped site with distinctive purple corals. The limestone rock that gives the site its name can be seen just under the surface during low tide. It’s one of the best sites for diving with whale sharks due to the abundant plankton that draws them here.
Getting there: Diving is only permissible through live-aboard dive tours that depart form Phuket, Khao Lak or Ranong.
Best time to visit: Diving season runs from October to early May due to excellent weather conditions. Visit between February and April if you want to dive with whale sharks.
6. Calamian Islands, Philippines
Located in the Palawan province, the Calamian Islands consist of several islands including Busuanga, Coron and Culion. The area is often referred collectively as Coron and is most famous for its wreck diving. In 1944, a fleet of Japanese ships were sunk in the harbour leading to the underwater shipwrecks you’ll find today, surrounded by coral reef that teems with diverse marine life. When you’re not diving, the limestone islands with their white sandy beaches are just begging to be explored.
Getting there: Flights are available from Manila to Busuanga.
Best time to visit: You can dive all-year round, due to the sheltered bay. To see the manta rays, whales and sharks, go during plankton season from December to April.